Year 4, Month 12, Day 30: Semolina Pilchard?

The Patriot-News (PA) runs a fine op-ed from Richard Whiteford:

Congressional legislators who deny climate change typically focus on free market economics and fail to acknowledge the destructive impacts and associated costs that we experience now from climate driven extreme weather events.

They grouse about the Obama Administration’s request for a 2014 climate change budget of $11.6 billion and the expansion of government agencies to combat climate change.

While realizing that the Republican party’s platform rests on smaller government and cutting government expenses to the bone, you can’t help wondering why their budget fetish ignores the fact that, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, between 2011 and the first quarter of 2013 extreme weather events cost us more than $136 billion and that doesn’t count the endless numbers of flood, sand storm, drought, and wild fire damages that happened since then.

Props for the man. December 17:

The oil and coal industries won’t relinquish the unimaginable profits they’ve enjoyed for decades without a fight. Because addressing global climate change will cut into their quarterly returns, these corporations have invested heavily in conservative “institutes” and “think tanks” which routinely supply America’s print and broadcast media with authoritative voices loudly denying the realities of climate science. The result? An essential public debate on the issue has been corrupted with half-truths, cherry-picked data, and outright falsehoods, stalling legislative action at a time when it is desperately needed.

Which is more likely — that activists and scientists are pooling their (very limited) resources as part of a secretive global conspiracy to advance a spurious environmental agenda, or that giant multinational corporations with a long track record of greed, mendacity and incompetence are employing wealth beyond the dreams of avarice to derail policies that would impair their profitability?

This is irresponsibility at the planetary level, and it will be justly reviled by our descendants, as they struggle to survive in the world we’ve made for them.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 24: If You Knew Susie Like I Knew Susie

The Akron Beacon Journal (OH) offers this perspective from Lee Thomas, former EPA head under Reagan:

During the 1980s, the United States and the world faced an urgent environmental challenge. Scientists warned strongly that chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs, were destroying the ozone layer. If not stopped, this would wreak havoc on public health — increasing cancer rates, cataracts and worse— and on ecosystems that are essential for agriculture and marine life. The scientists made clear: Humans caused this problem and human must fix it.

Under President Ronald Reagan’s leadership, we decided to act. We engaged with the business community, environmental organizations, government officials and other nations. Less than two years after the discovery of the ozone hole over the Antarctic, many countries negotiated the Montreal Protocol to phase out the use of CFCs.

Reagan was the first head of state to endorse the treaty, and the Senate ratified it unanimously.

This isn’t a history lesson: This matters right now. New international negotiations on climate just concluded this week in Warsaw, Poland. While the world still waits for true leadership, last month’s global science assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned starkly: Climate change is here, it’s getting worse, we’re causing it, and we need to act without delay.

Make no mistake: Climate change is a threat that, once distant, has moved squarely into the present. It demands immediate attention.

In the case of the ozone layer, we can learn from our success. But don’t think it was easy. Skeptical voices railed against the treaty, denying that CFCs were a problem or suggesting that adaptation was the preferred approach. Chemical and equipment manufacturers feared the costs. Those fears proved to be unfounded. Businesses soon adjusted to the new rules and identified opportunities for new products. More than a decade of economic prosperity followed the signing of the treaty, showing that American ingenuity can go a long way toward solving our nation’s challenges.

A generic article merits a generic letter. December 11:

The facts are in, and have been for a long time. Why, then, is there any significant climate change denial in America? The fault lies with an egregiously irresponsible news media and the corporate interests behind them. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has invested heavily in conservative “institutes” and “think tanks” which provide a steady supply of authoritative-sounding pundits who argue for the continued over-consumption of oil and coal. Oddly, these companies continue to make historically unprecedented profits.

While the US hasn’t been clobbered by climate chaos as much as some other nations, our lucky streak won’t go on forever. We are already seeing impacts on American agriculture and infrastructure, and the overwhelming scientific consensus (despite the naysaying of television’s unctuous talking heads) is that it’s going to get significantly worse in the coming decades. Conservative politicians’ irresponsible refusal to craft climate policy around facts rather than ideology is a grave disservice to their constituents and to the nation they claim to serve.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 23: So You Don’t Forget, Call Before Midnight Tonight!

Climatologist Katherine Hayhoe has noticed that our media sux donkey dick, according to the Delaware News-Journal.

As the global science of human-caused climate change improves, the public’s inadequate understanding “is definitely a worry,” a top national researcher said Monday.

“I think, for a long time, we’ve been operating under the assumption that the facts are enough,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech University atmospheric scientist retained by Delaware to prepare a climate change forecast.

“In terms of scientific certainty, we’re adding decimal points [to confidence], whereas in public opinion, we could be advancing by tens of percent” through outreach and better communication, said Hayhoe, a lead author for the latest National Climate Assessment. “I think that is what we have to be doing.”

Hayhoe made her remarks at an event hosted by the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and the Environment.

A report guided heavily by Hayhoe’s research concluded in June that Delaware’s summers will grow steadily hotter on average in coming decades, with temperatures closer to those of the deep coastal southeast if emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases continue.

Time to spank some talking heads, I suppose. December 10:

Industrial civilization’s CO2 emissions are heating Earth’s atmosphere, making a far less hospitable planet for our descendants to inherit — but this news is apparently less important than the latest fleeting scandal, royal baby, or nubile starlet. Our celebrity-fixated mass media has turned us into an ADD society, perpetually distracted and unable to focus on the genuine and very serious challenges our species faces in the coming decades.

But there’s more to the story than that. For decades, “think tanks” subsidized by the fossil fuel industries have promoted climate-change denialism, supplying news outlets with unctuous and telegenic pundits who stridently reject the alarming implications of climate research in favor of false equivalence and misinformation.

The climate crisis is a civilizational emergency, but without a reformed and responsible news media competent to address science and environmental issues, the majority of our citizens will never know it — until it’s too late.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 22: If Looks Could Kill It Would Have Been Us Instead Of Him

Say what you will about Maine’s Governore Paul LePage, he’s a boon to opinion columnists looking for something to mock and deplore. The Bangor Daily News:

I do agree with Gov. Paul LePage on one thing.

It is difficult to keep up with the latest official title of what is basically the warming of our planet.

In this week’s story about LePage offering up the sunny side of this well-established yet heavily disputed and debated phenomenon, he was quoted as telling an audience, “It used to be global warming, I think they call it climate change now, but there are a lot of opportunities developing.”

Actually, further up in the story, BDN reporter Mario Moretto referred to it as “global climate change” and further down a Sierra Club spokesperson called it “global climate disruption.”

Since the governor has pretty much denied its existence or at least any human involvement in it, we probably should let him ease into the idea before expecting him to latch onto the term “global climate disruption.”

Whatever you want to call it, what I know is that there will be no delicate, luxurious Maine shrimp on my table this winter … and that makes me sad.

A totally different tack from yesterday’s letter in response to the same idiocy. December 9:

Now that outright denial of climate change is all but impossible, we can expect conservative politicians and media figures to begin proclaiming that a catastrophically intensifying greenhouse effect is actually a good thing. Cue Governor LePage, who recently suggested that a melted Arctic would be economically beneficial.

And indeed, metastasizing global warming is certainly going to be a job creator. Since complicated lawsuits will multiply, environmental law specialists will be in demand everywhere. Think of all the disaster response experts required to cope with the increasing numbers of severe and devastating storms! Think of the extra training doctors will need as invasive tropical diseases become commonplace, and the oncologists, pharmacists, and funeral directors who’ll be working overtime in the long-term aftermath of the toxic spills inevitably accompanying the extraction and transport of fossil fuels.

Of course, some jobs will disappear, like those of Atlantic fishermen. The Governor sends his regrets.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 21: Crying All The Way To The Bank

The Portland Press-Herald’s Bill Nemitz has some words for Maine’s Governor LePage:

Ahoy, Governor LePage!

Not sure if you can hear me over the wind and the waves, but I can’t let another day pass without congratulating you on that epiphany you had last week before a crowd of transportation industry types:

You finally believe in global warming!

What’s more, now that you’re an ocean-is-more-than-half-full kind of guy, you’ve gone from denying that the Earth’s climate is rapidly changing to embracing it as the second coming for Maine’s frozen economy.

“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Pass has opened up – the new sea traffic is going across the north,” you told the Maine Transportation Conference on Wednesday. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”

No argument there, Big Guy. The more those Arctic waters stay open, the more Maine’s deep-water ports stand to benefit as jumping-off points for an endless parade of not-so-slow boats to China.

Well spoken, sir. December 8:

Now that denying the existence of a planetary environmental crisis is no longer viable, expect the talking heads of our media and political environment to start asserting that we must “balance” climate change mitigation with economic expansion, a stance which has the advantage of being temporarily plausible until we remember that infinite growth is impossible on a finite surface.

By asserting the fiscal returns to be expected from a melted Arctic, Governor LePage goes a step further, embracing a global catastrophe as a potential profit center. Which is, quite simply, insane.

Remember the old saw, “health is our greatest wealth?” The Earth’s health is the foundation of all human prosperity, and our planet’s resources (water, food, the environment’s ability to process our wastes) are limited. Impressive quarterly returns won’t protect our grandchildren from rising sea levels, agricultural collapses, oceanic acidification, and the other consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 12, Day 20: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

The Topeka Capitol-Journal (KS) runs a story headlined, “Senator, farmer, rabbi speak on climate change”:

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, joined with a rabbi and a farmer from her district Friday to urge action on climate change and blast the American Legislative Exchange Council for attempting to roll back renewal energy standards.

Friday’s news conference at the Statehouse coincided with national meetings of ALEC, a group that brings together state legislators and corporate lobbyists who write “model bills” that are then introduced in Statehouses across the country.

“ALEC denies, despite all the overwhelming scientific evidence, that climate change even exists and the legislative proposals it backs attempt to overturn good policies that are already on the books,” said Moti Rieber, a rabbi and state director of Interfaith Power & Light, a group of religious leaders concerned about environmental issues.

Bill Meierling, a spokesman for ALEC, said the organization “maintains no model policy on climate change.”

“We do have policies that support free market policies and market-based environmentalism, but nothing that pertains specifically to climate change,” Meierling said via email.

This one went pretty easily. December 7 (now putting me 13 days ahead):

It sounds like a setup line: a farmer, a rabbi and a Senator walk into a news conference. But the American Legislative Exchange Council’s interference in our nation’s politics is anything but funny. ALEC’s malign influence on the legislative process is by now reasonably well known; their “model legislation” is routinely enacted without change by lawmakers too lazy or too corrupt to do their jobs responsibly.

And there’s nothing at all to laugh about when it comes to climate change. The accelerating greenhouse effect is on track to catastrophically disrupt agriculture, infrastructure, and the other support systems of our civilization — yet ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and other ultra-conservative forces have used their financial resources to seriously hobble national or regional efforts to prepare for disastrous outcomes.

This irresponsibility to the long-term survival and prosperity of our species is driven by the most venal of motives: greed. And that’s no joke.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 12, Day 18: A Little More Lovely Than It Was Before You

The Spokesman-Review takes note of a new study on the Rockies’ rapidly disappearing snowpack:

Last weekend’s doozy of a storm followed a classic Northwest weather script.

Winds gusting to 40 mph blew moisture-rich air from the ocean into the Cascades and Northern Rockies, dumping snow on the mountains while leaving lower elevations bare.

The winds – called “winter westerlies” – are vital to a region that depends on mountain snowpack for its water supply. But a new study suggests that climate change is disrupting the winds, with stark implications for future water availability.

“Those winds are being slowed down by climate change,” said Charlie Luce, a research hydrologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise. That means fewer storms will reach the mountains, or smaller water droplets will drift over the peaks as fog instead of falling as snow, he said.

Either scenario would mean additional headaches for Northwest policymakers preparing for an altered climate.

Warmer temperatures already are expected to shift some Northwest precipitation from snow to rain and cause the snow that does accumulate to melt earlier in the year. The net effect is reduced runoff during the spring and summer, when the water is needed for irrigation, hydropower, fisheries and other uses. Complicating matters, Luce’s study suggests there will be far less water to begin with.

The “Missing Mountain Water” study was published last week in Science magazine by Luce and researchers from the University of Idaho and the U.S. Forest Service.

This letter is a pastiche from previous efforts. December 6:

The newly released study of the Northwest’s shrinking snowpack offers further support to an enormous body of research that confirms a distressing planetary trend. Human greenhouse emissions have achieved quantities sufficient to warm the Earth’s atmosphere and affect ecosystems all around the world in unpredictable and disruptive ways. This loss of water resources in the Rockies and Cascades is exacerbated by those politicians and media figures whose rigid ideologies compel them to reject the implications of scientific inquiry and analysis.

Our national case of ADD has blinded us to the fact that when it comes to the planet’s health, we’re all in this together. Perhaps the climate crisis may finally help us realize that what we do in our own neighborhoods can affect people’s lives on the other side of the globe — and that what we do today will shape the lives of our descendants in the distant future.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 12: Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.

The Lincoln Journal-Star (NE) on the relative unpreparedness of coastal vs. inland states for the impacts of climate change:

Eighteen states, including Delaware, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Wyoming and others, were ranked as Category 1, meaning that their plans either mention nothing about climate change or discuss climate change with confusing, dismissive or inaccurate information. Colorado, California, New York and eight others that included the most thorough and accurate discussion of climate change were ranked as Category 4, while the remaining states fell between the two categories.

“By identifying the most thorough plans that have been prepared, we hope to provide planners in other states with models that can serve as a place to start in upgrading their own plans,” said Michael B. Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law, which conducted the survey.

Since the data were gathered, about half the states have begun revising their hazard mitigation plans. Some revisions that have been completed are not accounted for in the survey, he said.

The hazard mitigation plan for Colorado, the only western land-locked state the report ranked in Category 4, focuses on how climate change could have a significant impact on drought and water resources in the state. Colorado recently has experienced numerous climate change-influenced extreme weather events, including a withering drought, the state’s two most destructive wildfire seasons in its history and catastrophic flooding.

“The example of Colorado shows that climate-related hazards are not only coastal; land-locked states have their own hazards, and there are ways to anticipate them and plan for them,” Gerrard said.

States whose hazard mitigation plans ignore climate change entirely are Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota. The Mississippi and Montana plans discuss climate change only as a source of added complexity when dealing with wildfire, the report says.

A generic Republican-bashing letter. November 30:

The most immediately obvious impact of global climate change is the intensity and frequency of storm activity, so it makes sense that coastal dwellers will be more keenly aware of the crisis. But inland states’ unpreparedness cannot be entirely blamed on geography, for there is nowhere on Earth where the consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect are not felt, and the facts of climate science are by now well-known.

Did I say “nowhere”? Perhaps I misspoke. It’s surely revealing that of the eight states which ignore climate pressures completely in their disaster planning, all but one are governed by members of a political party which is now dominated by science-denial and magical thinking. Republican lawmakers seem to be completely insulated from the obvious realities of a changing climate — a state of affairs which is a sad comedown for the erstwhile party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 11: That Bears A Lipstick’s Traces

The Newcastle Herald (Australia) runs a column from a scientist who notes the leftover tobacco tactics in use:

Replication is the heart of scientific research. We checked our results by asking the actual scientists who authored the climate papers to rate their own research. As a result 1200 scientists rated their own papers. Among papers self-rated as stating a position on human-caused global warming, 97.2 per cent endorsed the consensus.

Just as many independent observations confirm human-caused global warming, there are many independent indicators of overwhelming agreement among climate scientists.

Consensus matters. When people correctly perceive that scientists agree about climate change, they’re more likely to support climate action. Consequently, those who oppose policy to mitigate climate change have sought to cast doubt on the consensus for over two decades.

This is done with the same techniques of the tobacco industry and right-wing ideologues who denied smoking causes cancer.

This is a recycled letter. November 29:

There’ll always be good-paying jobs for professional liars as long as corporations can profit hugely at ordinary citizens’ expense. It’s no surprise that the groups and individuals so busily misinforming the world about climate change were once on the payrolls of tobacco companies, and it’s no surprise that the same tactics are encountered in both situations.

There is something else happening, though, just below the surface. Addiction has its own psychology, whether it’s nicotine or fossil fuels.

Think of every smoker’s excuses: “I’ll just cut down a bit,” “I need to relax,” “my dad is 90 and he smokes like a chimney,” “I’ll quit when I’m not so busy.” How similar these phrases are to the rhetoric of big oil and coal corporations arguing against policies for addressing climate change in any but the most anodyne ways.

We’re hooked on fossil fuels, and our addiction’s destroying the health of our planet. The industry-funded arguments against the reality of this grave threat are eerily reminiscent of a chain-smoker’s rationalizations for ignoring the doctor’s warnings.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 2: Just Tryin’ To Make A Livin’ And Doin’ The Best I Can

The Tampa Bay Times, on rising waters and insurance rates:

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly 40 real estate agents packed the sweltering conference room in downtown St. Petersburg this week to hear flood insurance expert Pete Travis describe the new — and expensive — world coming Oct. 1.

He didn’t pull any punches.

Many older homes in flood zones have long benefited from a big subsidy that kept flood insurance rates very low. Starting next month, those homeowners will typically see annual rates jump more than 20 percent, including a fee for a new reserve fund. A late payment could cost them their subsidy immediately.

If the owner sells the home, the buyer will lose the subsidy. That could, as in one scenario, raise a premium that had been $1,400 a year to $9,500.

Travis wasn’t hopeful of a congressional reprieve in the next couple of weeks.

“Have I demoralized everyone here?” he asked.

Concern about rising flood insurance rates — triggered by the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 — has been percolating for months. Now, just weeks before the law’s main provisions take effect, real estate agents and communities from Apollo Beach to Treasure Island are galvanizing, worried about falling property values, busted real estate sales and a crippling effect on the broader economy.

People gettin’ hammered, everywhere. November 21:

A phrase we’ve heard all too often from our conservative politicians is “nobody anticipated.” “Nobody” anticipated New Orleans’ crumbling levees in New Orleans, the environmental consequences of oil spills, or the fact that cutting public works funding results in failing infrastructure. And “nobody” anticipated the devastating floods which are becoming a fact of life for coastal Floridians.

“Nobody,” that is, except environmentalists, scientists, and insurance companies. That latter group, of course, depends on accurate predictions for its continued profitability. Unfortunately, when it comes to issues of climate, the Republican Party has now abandoned any attempts at fact-based policy.

Thanks to zealous Tea-Party politicians and their constituents, the measured predictions of insurance companies contemplating a climatically-transformed future no longer have any influence on Republican policy-making.

Apparently nobody anticipated that a political movement built on ideological opposition to science and expertise would bring skyrocketing expenses for homeowners facing the impacts of global climate change.

Warren Senders